Over the last 30 years, the U.S. pistachio industry has grown rapidly, becoming a success story for California agriculture— the major commercial pistachio producing state in the United States. When the United States pistachio industry did develop, it was largely a result of changes in public policies. When California almond growers lost the tax exemption and income-sheltered business status due to legislation in the 1960s, many of them turned to commercial pistachio production as a viable alternative. Then in 1979 because of the hostage crisis in Iran, trade restraints with Iran were imposed, opening the market to U.S. producers. Today, the United States is the second leading producer and exporter of pistachios behind Iran.
Approximately 98 percent of U.S. pistachios are produced in California with the remaining 2 percent of production located in Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas. In California, pistachios are predominantly grown in the San Joaquin Valley counties of Kern, Madera, Kings, Fresno and Tulare because of their desert-like climate and soil (ERS). While several varieties of pistachios exist, in California the Kerman variety accounts for nearly all pistachio production (99%) because of its large size, crisp kernel texture, and widely-split shells. Pistachios were the second largest U.S. tree nut crop in 2004 and worth $438 million in value, behind almonds worth over $2 billion.